The NSA is building America’s biggest spy center, and “Everybody’s a target”
Recently, in response to Google’s Orwellian collapsing and combining of 60 separate privacy policies (the better to construct a Master Profile of its users for selling and surveilling), I took pains to extricate myself from the tentacular grasp of its many products. I’m now Google Free and Loving It (although I did, yes, include three YouTube videos in a post I published here yesterday; YouTube is the only Google service I’m going to maintain some — limited — contact with). I’m also presently in preparation to shut down my Facebook account, since it, too, has recently taken, and is taking, and will continue to take, giant strides toward realizing its destiny as a watcher and seller of people. (Now that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has officially filed for the company’s initial public offering, valued at sixty hundred million bazillion dollars, he and they are officially the target of every hopeful advertiser on the planet, and you and I are the product that he and they are selling.)
In short, I’m shoring up my online identity by simultaneously limiting and diversifying its footprint. I plan to write a full blog post about my reasons for doing this (which involve not just security concerns but philosophical ones) in the near future. And right as I’m in the midst of this, here comes a story from Wired that falls right in line with everything that concerns me about our growing surveillance state (and also right in line with the responses of many of my friends and family members to my shifts in online activities; they tell me that my actions are rather useless and stupid, since if I plan to stay online at all, then I’m giving away my privacy already). But rather than reading it and weeping, read it and be grateful for the light and clarity it provides regarding the intentions of the U.S. government and the nature of our national political and cultural situation.
Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.
But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”
…There is no doubt that it has transformed itself into the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever created. In the process — and for the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration — the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net. And, of course, it’s all being done in secret. To those on the inside, the old adage that NSA stands for Never Say Anything applies more than ever.
Full story: “The NSA IS Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say),” Wired, March 15, 2012)